By Joe Messa
The medical malpractice lawyers at Messa & Associates in Philadelphia recently reviewed a worrisome study in the medical journal, Archives of Surgery. The study found that surgical residents suffering from fatigue increase their risk of committing a surgical mistake in the operating room. While fictionalized television shows attempt to entertain us with dramatized accounts of the long work hours and sleep deprivation experienced by surgical residents, this study raises serious concerns about patients being at a greater risk of injury or death due to the medical malpractice of over-worked surgical residents.
The recent study, which was conducted at two Boston area hospitals, examined the mental efficacy of fatigued surgeons. Twenty-seven surgical orthopedic residents participated in the study, having their sleep and waking periods monitored. The average number of hours slept per day was 5.3 hours. When compared to a control group of physicians who had an acceptable amount of sleep, it was determined that the doctors spent about 25 percent of their waking hours functioning at only about 70 percent of their mental capacity. In other words, they were functioning as if having a blood alcohol level of 0.08. In many states, this is equivalent to being considered legally drunk.
Based on the researchers’ calculations, the researchers predicted that the level of fatigue experienced by the residents increased their risk of committing a medical mistake by 22 percent when compared to the control group. In addition, it was determined that residents working the night shift experienced an even greater amount of fatigue, and as a result they carried a greater risk of making surgical errors. Clearly, additional research needs to be initiated to determine the cycles of fatigue and to identify the times when doctors are most overtired. The potential for more stringent rules that would limit work hours of doctors needs to be considered.
The researchers conducted this study after the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education set rules limiting the number of hours that first year residents could work. These new physicians in training are not allowed to work more than 16 hours straight. This limitation that went into effect last July does not pertain to residents with more experience. Veteran residents can work up to a 28-hour shift. Many of these doctors work these long shifts with little or no sleep.
The Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys at Messa & Associates agree with the researchers that these restrictions may not be strict enough to prevent fatigued doctors from making medical and surgical errors. Our lawyers represent clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey who have been injured by surgical errors and quite often physician fatigue plays a part. The risk of injury or even death to patients by impaired physicians is a serious issue that needs to be addressed aggressively. The public deserves to be cared for by well-rested and alert health care providers.
Having represented hundred of victims of medical malpractice, the lawyers at Messa & Associates are well familiar with the devastating results of medical and surgical errors. If you or a family member has suffered personal injuries as a result of a medical or surgical error, you need to seek the guidance and legal representation of a team of experienced medical malpractice lawyers with the resources, both professional and financial, to pursue your case aggressively to seek full recovery for your injuries. Call toll free at 1-877-MessaLaw (877-637-7252) for a free and confidential consultation at our Philadelphia or New Jersey office or submit a free online inquiry.
Joseph L. Messa, Jr. is the founding partner of Messa & Associates, P.C. He is an AV-rated attorney (highest rating available), listed in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. Read More